The New Today

Commentary

The leader must stop the paralysis and act now

Both Trinidad and Tobago and the Bahamas have confirmed exponential spread of the coronavirus within their population. Exponential spread is the highest category according to the World Health Organisation (WHO) as the other categories are: no cases, sporadic and cluster spread.

Jamaica and Barbados are currently experiencing intense linear spread with the former, Jamaica, nearing exponential transmission having being in cluster spread for some time. The leadership of Trinidad and Tobago and the Bahamas have taken immediate action to reverse the situation.

In the case of the Bahamas, Prime Minister Hubert Minnis swiftly announced a total lockdown for three days in the first instance, however on the island of Grand Bahamas where most of the new cases are located the lockdown was extended up to fourteen days. Among other measures introduced, all arriving travelers to the chain of islands will now face a mandatory fourteen day quarantine in a state-owned facility at their own cost.

In announcing the series of actions, Prime Minister Minnis said, “our current situation demands decisive action if we are to avoid being overrun and defeated by this virus”.

Prime Minister Dr. Keith Rowley of Trinidad and Tobago announced a sweeping series of rollbacks to current regulations including closure of beaches and rivers, restriction on taxis to fifty percent occupancy, closure of gyms and churches, limitation on public gathering to five persons, ten for funerals and weddings and a ban on all contact sports. All teaching institutions will remain close until further notice. Only essential travel is permitted to Tobago.

The twin island republic borders continue to remain closed to international flights. Prime Minister Rowley who recently led his party to victory in national elections announced that the lockdown measures are as a result of exponential spread and the time for suasion is over.

The quick and decisive response to the outbreaks by the two leaders should be commended. It also sends a signal to neighbouring Caricom countries to act now and not wait until the virus resurge to do so. There is a saying, ‘when you do not have good foot you must take in front’.

This is relevant to Grenada at this time. Our health care system is in a deplorable state and the parallel system set up in response to Covid-19 is seriously wanting. Grenada only have fourteen beds dedicated to Covid-19 and no state-run quarantine and step down facilities.

The local health authority capacity to isolate and treat patients are inadequate to say the least. This has resulted in the use of small hotels and guest houses to quarantine returning nationals to the island. Grenada cannot afford to reach a situation where the number of sick people needing treatment is beyond the current bed capacity for Covid patients.

Contact tracing becomes more difficult in a situation of community spread and can quickly become ineffective if the surge in infections overwhelm the system.

There are already an insufficient number of contact tracers to handle an outbreak. Added to this, is a poorly resourced epidemiological function at the Ministry of Health, limited capacity in geographic information system mapping, an important element of epidemiological surveillance and, an antiquated health information system. In other words, the Ministry of Health is unable to effectively perform the important function of contact tracing in the event of a significant spike in infections.

The Ministry of Health has yet to expand its focus from testing persons at ports of entry, contacts of confirmed persons and frontline workers. To date, no antibody testing within the general population was undertaken and the situation of asymptomatic spreaders are unknown.

To put it simple, Grenada does not have sufficient capacity to effectively test, isolate, trace and treat in the event of an outbreak. Since we do not have good foot should we not take in front? Why our leaders not acting to step up enforcement of current health protocols and strengthen public health measures where necessary to prevent an outbreak.

Just listened to that MoH press conference and I will go down on my knees and pray for Grenada that we don’t get a resurgence of Covid-19. God save us, God graciously save us.

The recently held press conference by the Ministry of Health and the Prime Minister’s speech laid bare for all to see the paralysis that is presently gripping the country. The press conference could only be described as a catastrophe. Both presenters appear uninformed and unsure of themselves in the face of a historic pandemic.

The acting Chief Medical Officer gave an ambiguous explanation of the health protocols that caused great confusion in my mind. Since the island is open to commercials flights would a tourist traveling to Grenada from a medium or high risk country with a negative PCR test and after having a swab taken on arrival at the airport have to quarantine in a state sanctioned facility or his or her hotel until the result becomes available?

If that person is confined to their hotel and then register a positive test result would our poor hotel workers not be placed at risk? Apart from the unclear nature of the protocols equally concerning is what the acting CMO did not say.

With only a very brief reference to the situation of exponential spread in neighbouring countries, he did not say whether Government should consider removing those countries from the travel bubble. Barbados in response quickly removed those countries with exponential spread from the travel bubble. Neither did he said if the health protocols for countries in the bubble should be strengthened in light of the emerging situation.

The acting CMO did not say if he has at his disposal the full required capacity to handle an outbreak, whether his disease surveillance function is fully resourced with epidemiologists, geographic information systems mapper and other disease detectives to fight an outbreak. Do we have a sufficient number of properly trained contact tracers at the ready?

In a situation of exponential spread if you don’t have enough contact tracers the system could easily be overwhelmed and become ineffective. Contact tracing is your firewall to ensure that an outbreak is quickly contained.

The acting CMO did not tell the nation if the health information system has been upgraded and trained IT personnel are employed to maintain it. In a nutshell, he didn’t tell the nation if strong disease surveillance, testing, and public health measures are in place to protect Grenada from a resurgence of coronavirus.

Barbados in response quickly removed countries with exponential spread from the travel bubble.

The acting CMO announcement that many persons from medium and high risk countries have breached quarantine rules is frightening when one consider that his counterpart in Trinidad and Tobago said in a press conference that one person who broken self-quarantine and traveled to Tobago could have infected two hundred and twenty two people with the virus.

The weak capacity of the Ministry of Health to enforce the health protocols and regulations continue to be laid bare and the consequences can be serious.

The presentation by the head of the Covid-19 Advisory Committee was laughable. Either he did not know or was unsure what the thinking was. He appeared to be unaware of all of the members of the committee. What message does this send to the nation? What message does this send to the nation and the outside world?

The speech by the Prime Minister later in the evening was uninspiring to say the least. It was stale with old recurring themes, lacking understanding of the emerging post-Covid global landscape and void of new thinking. As an old man in a rum shop said in reference to the speech, we were served bramble pie, arrogant salad with vindictive dressing and, mamaguy juice. The speech rather than lift people dropped their spirits.

It was Napoleon Bonaparte who said, a good leader is a dealer in hope. The speech was one of despair and arrogance as it attempted to lay blame on the Jab, Jab for possible spread of the virus. A good leader takes a little more of the blame and a little less of the credit.

One cannot argue that credit should not go to the leader for the successful lockdown that stopped the virus spread in its tracks; however the leader must take blame for not holding those to account whom he delegated responsibilities to. The leader must take blame for the double standards and elitist approach in enforcement of protocols and measures. The leader must take blame for the absence of foresight and deep thinking in the policy responses outline in his speech because he surrounds himself with too many ‘yes men and women’ rather than persons who speak truth to power.

Covid 19 has once again laid bare the lack of capacity in administration of Government in Grenada. It is said that the greatest leader is not necessarily the one who does the greatest things. He is the one that gets people to do the greatest things. The leader it appears is unable to inspire his confidants to do great things and that is reflective in his performance.

How could the leader come back with the outdated concept that tourism ought to be the lead sector to drive the post-Covid recovery? With the advent of climate change and all its negative consequences including stronger and frequent hurricanes and, increase spread of disease from wild animals to humans.

With seventy five percent of emerging illnesses now coming from animals driven by climate change, the next major pandemic may be just twenty years away rather than one hundred years. In a situation of climate change it is foolhardy to place all your development eggs in the tourism basket. The industry is too fragile.

One would have expected the leader to shift the focus on agriculture, manufacturing, information technology, and emerging technologies and sectors.

Covid has revealed the importance of those sectors and the youths are now more knowledgeable and empowered and they are not going to be deceived any more.

The pandemic has laid bare many of the ills in the political system. The population have experienced the gripping paralysis in governance. They have seen the double standards, experienced the elitism in society and are aware of the loopholes and gaping gaps in the Covid response.

The people are not going to be taken for a ride anymore. It is said that good leaders emerge during crisis and the recent weeks have shown there are many young leaders ready to step up to the plate if you continue to fail to lead.

As the acting CMO said in his letter, our population has by and large been so far speared the brunt of this disease by the grace of God. The people know that it is just a matter of time for the virus to resurge if the situation of poor management of the Covid response continues.

The people know we are not ready to deal with a significant outbreak. The people know the health system is broken. The people want the leader to lead during this crisis; that means take the necessary actions to reverse the paralysis in governance and strengthen the Covid response to make it more effective.

Special Correspondent

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